Family Sabbatical

In four short weeks we are leaving for Santiago, Chile. My husband, me and our three small children (ages 1, 4, and 5.5) will live there for nine weeks to learn Spanish (or at least get a good start) and immerse ourselves in the culture. Our family learning sabbatical is one of the greatest gifts we will ever give our children, and ourselves.

Here’s how it started.

In the fall of 2012 we found ourselves pretty content. And by content I mean we had a good rhythm and everything seemed if not easy, well, pretty darn manageable. Marriage, work, kids, life was comfortable. We were in between babies (planning but not yet pregnant with our third and final child). But here’s the deal, I don’t think my husband and I “do” comfortable very well. We get itchy. We start dreaming and planning. By that I mean that we are kind of addicted to learning curves. We’ve both had our fair share of learning curves—both what has come at us through the course of life and the deliberate choices we’ve made. We found ourselves in the fall of 2012 craving something extraordinary. Around the same time my husband casually commented to me, “if we don’t learn Spanish, we’ll be like our parents with iPhones.” Our parents are not terribly tech savvy. They are somewhat ill prepared for the tech-centered world we live in. Josh and I can see—through the community we live in, our careers and the very real statistical data—that Spanish is going to be not only important, but likely necessary, in our future. And certainly in our children’s futures. We also feel very strongly about the advantages to the brain when second and third languages are introduced early in life. We desperately want the world to be more open to our children and the opportunities and choices for college, for work, and for life to be vastly wider and deeper than it has been for us.

And so we started talking about a BIG adventure. Now, I’ll be honest, nine weeks in Santiago is NOT the first iteration of this dream. Indeed, we discussed at length taking an entire year off—from work, America, our house, our stuff—and moving to Chile. Josh wanted to leave IMMEDIATELY but alas within days of our first real and in-depth discussion of Chile we realized I was pregnant—yay!—and so I negotiated more time for planning. Though entirely possible, I did not want to give birth in Chile or spend any of the baby’s first year there. I wanted my Yakima village of doctors and friends and support. Plus, there were SO MANY THINGS to do in order for this dream to come together.

The first thing to do? Ask Josh’s boss for a sabbatical.

This item seems to be the biggest “WTF?” when we tell people about our sabbatical. No, we aren’t professors but quite frankly, sabbaticals are not that rare. Several large U.S. companies give sabbaticals to long-time employees (Intel, Motorola, Starbucks), and even a local law firm gives partners sabbaticals. Once we crunched the numbers and figured out we could manage a sabbatical financially, Josh approached his boss and told them our dream. Really, that’s what he did. He told them about our passion to learn Spanish, for the adventure, for the doors we believe it will open in our children’s brains. And they said yes. We are going during the slowest time of the year and Josh will delegate work to colleagues and “be available” via phone and email for anything urgent that comes up. We’ll be totally plugged in technologically speaking while in Chile and he already deals with time differences as we’re in Washington State and his company is headquartered in Georgia and Barcelona, Spain. Now, for those of you who cannot wrap your heads around taking that length of leave consider this: most professional women I know have done it at least two times. It’s called maternity leave. Organizations survive for 12 weeks and so does the employee.

I’ll also say that we’ve been strategic in our lives to create as much liberty as possible. We’ve pursued careers and a lifestyle that grants us a lot of liberty so that we can make a choices like this. We’ve certainly sacrificed to have this liberty in a variety of ways.

Why Chile? Ask Josh. It’s someplace he has always wanted to visit. He’s drawn to Chile. If this were my dream we’d be packing up our lives to move to France for the indefinite future. I lived in Paris years ago and I always assumed that France would be our adventure. I’ll concede though that Spanish will be more useful but France is still on our horizon. Learning Spanish makes me feel like such a cheat. I constantly feel like I’m cheating on French while I learn Spanish. How can I have two loves? My brain has capacity for both, I hope.

And so, here we go!